Amazon claims its new robot-filled Sydney warehouse is an 'employment creator'

Amazon Australia is building a robotics fulfilment centre in Sydney. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel, NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • Amazon is building a new robotics fulfilment centre in Sydney, which the company says will create 1,500 jobs.
  • Amazon Australia director of operations Craig Fuller told Business Insider Australia the company has been working on the project for 12 months.
  • Fuller argued the robots bring “safety” and “productivity” to the working environment.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

On Tuesday, Amazon announced it’s building a new robotics fulfilment centre in Sydney. This marks the fifth fulfilment centre the company will have in Australia, which will be home to 11 million items.

The giant centre will be around 200,000 square metres across four levels – roughly the same land size of Taronga Zoo – with Amazon outsourcing construction to Goodman and their joint venture partner Brickworks.

The site will have robots designed to cut down the time it takes stow products away or pick them up for new orders.

Amazon Australia director of operations Craig Fuller told Business Insider Australia the company has been working on this project for 12 months, engaging with the New South Wales Government, the Penrith City Council and its development partners along the way.

“The New South Wales Government has been really supportive,” he said. “They really helped us with permits and development applications.”

He explained that with a lot of thought is put into each building in Amazon’s network.

“We constantly think about its role and its purpose and we invest accordingly in technology,” he said. For example, the robotics building isn’t suited for large products – such as, for example, ladders – but well-suited for small items like books, electronics, food and beverages.

Amazon argues total automation isn’t on the cards for the new facility

Amazon expects to finish its new robotics building in 2021 and create 1,500 jobs. Fuller said it will start hiring “well ahead of that opening” in line with the building’s construction schedule.

When asked whether the fulfilment centre will eventually become fully automated, Fuller said it was an “employment creator”.

“We know from our experience of launching Amazon robotics buildings in other countries that we actually make jobs,” he said. “Since we started launching robotic sites, we’ve created around about 300,000 jobs.”

He added that people will still be required: “We still need people to maintain and look after the robots.”

A Reuters report pointed out that Amazon brought in robots to pack orders in its fulfilment centres in the US, leading to a possible loss of around 1,300 jobs from 55 fulfilment centres. The difference in Australia is that this is a new facility.

The robots and safety

For Fuller, the benefit of robots is that they bring “a lot of safety to the working environment as well as productivity.”

However, there have been reports out of the US suggesting more injuries have occurred at Amazon centres with robots versus centres without them.

A report by The Atlantic together with Reveal from the Centre for Investigative Reporting on worker injuries at Amazon’s warehouses said, “Of the records Reveal obtained, most of the warehouses with the highest rates of injury deployed robots.”

The report highlighted that when robots were introduced to Amazon’s facility in Tracy, California, the rate of serious injuries rose from 2.9 per 100 workers in 2015 up to 11.3 in 2018.

In response to claims of higher injuries at robotics centres, Fuller said, “I just think those claims are not true.”

“My experience with robotic sites is that the robotic field itself is completely caged off and closed. Humans cannot walk onto the floor of the robotic site. If we have to do maintenance, then we shut the site down and we do that with no risk to humans.

“My experience with Amazon robotics is that it’s extremely safe for people in the workplace.”

Amazon has been operating fulfilment centres in Australia for two and a half years and Fuller is “really proud of our safety record”. “We really do put safety first,” he said.

He added that Amazon carefully thinks through the ergonomics of the roles it asks people to do and mentioned measures like stretches at every shift and training employees so they learn right body movements to minimise the risk of injuries related to doing repetitive tasks.

“I can look back at the record that we have had in the last two and a half years and stand proudly behind that and know that in this new site, we’ll continue that trend.”

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